Quotes in Sunday’s press, reportedly from Rafa Benítez, claiming he’s already been offered a new contract were surprising to say the least. According to the reports, Rafa said he expected to sign the new deal over the summer: “The contract will be done before the start of next season. The owners have said that will be the case, so that is good.”
Tom Hicks said recently that Rafa would get a new deal if he took over, and although Dubai have made no indication of any extension for Rafa if they won the battle for control, they’ve made it known that he’d be a part of their plans. But few expected any offers to Rafa from the current, joint, ownership.
Rafa went on to say in the report: “Every manager likes to have his position clarified. I still have two more years on my contract and I am happy here. That is vital when you look to sign players because they want to know the manager is happy and they are joining the right club.”
It seems odd after all the water that has passed under the bridge to hear now of some real co-operation from the owners.
The idea of replacing Alex Miller, and in effect Pako Ayestaran, with former Liverpool player and coach Sammy Lee is one that isn’t too hard to see a way round despite the stand-off between the owners. Few would claim that replacing two coaches with one, assuming it is done within existing budgets, would be something either owner would block.
Even allowing certain transfers to take place is something that the club could still do with owners who won’t sit in the same room. Budgets of between £10m and £20m net have been mentioned, and if that money is already in the club’s funds, either from the January finance package or the various amounts of prize money and other forms of income the club gets, then it seems unlikely that either owner would actually block the funds from being used for transfers, or for players to be sold as part of the overall summer transfer process.
In cases like those, it protects their investment.
But to offer Rafa Benítez an improved contract seems at odds with the way George Gillett has been acting. He’s made it clear for some time that he wants out. He wants to sell his half of the club, just not to Hicks. And his opinions of Rafa aren’t exactly the kind that you would use to fans to show you back him. So for him to be a party to an improved offer to Rafa, who still has two years left with the club, is strange to say the least.
The fact the quotes appeared in the Sunday Mirror in an article by Simon Mullock are perhaps a sign that they should be taken with a pinch of salt, but to carry direct quotes that haven’t actually been said is a little risky.
Gillett has just been in England to take in the league match with Spurs, but also to attend a meeting with Dubai’s representatives. It was some distance to travel just to see the last game of the season – particularly with Gillett having been ill on a number of occasions recently – suggesting the meeting with Amanda Staveley and others was the main reason for his journey, and in addition suggesting the meeting would be worth his while.
Rafa had said last week in his regular press conference that he wasn’t too sure what was happening in the boardroom, but intriguingly suggested a solution could be forthcoming soon: “All I can add about the boardroom situation is that I am in contact with both of them and we are trying to progress with different issues that we have. I do not know exactly everything about shares, but in terms of what is my responsibility, we are progressing and I am doing my job. Everybody knows the club needs to be well organised and everybody knows what they have to do.
“Who will be in charge? Maybe the final solution will be soon.”
Unusually, compared to recent months, very little has been said in recent days by Gillett, DIC or Hicks.
Hicks did make some comments on the stadium, which got planning permission last week: “Site work will start in September and actual construction in late October, early November, with completion in time for the season starting in August 2011.”
Those comments came on the back of claims that work couldn’t start on the new stadium due to funding worries, but the initial £60m required to get that work underway has been in place since January as part of the refinancing package Hicks and Gillett took out at the time. Other restrictions mean the work can’t start before September.
May has been described as a key month in negotiations for some time now, amidst claims of pre-emption agreements having time limits set to expire in this month, banks having given Hicks only until the end of the club’s Champions League run before pulling the plug on his US loans, and of course a desire from fans to see a resolution tied into the end of one season rather than carrying on into a new season.
A compromise certainly needs to be found if the club is to move forward. Hicks is unwilling to allow DIC to take 50%, Gillett is unwilling to sell even one percent of his stake to Hicks, and DIC are believed to want 51% or more.